Best balance transfer credit cards: 0% intro APR for 12-18 months

A balance transfer credit card can provide an effective way to reduce debt while temporarily avoiding interest charges. The best credit cards for balance transfers have introductory 0% APR offers lasting 12 to 21 months. Cards available from our partners could help you avoid APR on a transferred balance well into 2021 or even 2022.

Bankrate's Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards - Top Offers December 2020:

  • Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card: Best for excellent credit
  • Citi® Double Cash Card: Best for cash back rewards
  • Citi Rewards+℠ Card: Best for rewards on small purchases
  • PenFed Gold Visa® Card: Best for low interest
  • Citi Simplicity® Card: Best for no late fees
  • Wells Fargo Platinum card: Best for good credit
  • Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card: Best for digital wallet users
  • U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card: Best for longest 0% balance transfer offer
  • SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card: Best for no balance transfer fee

Need more information?

Skip down to read our expert advice on balance transfer credit cards.

Best for excellent credit

Citi Image

Recommended Credit Score

Excellent (740 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Citi's secure website

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card

Rewards Rate:
N/A
Welcome Offer:
N/A
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
0% for 18 months on Purchases
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
0% for 18 months on Balance Transfers
Regular APR:
14.74% - 24.74% (Variable)

Card Details

  • 0% Intro APR for 18 months on purchases from date of account opening and 0% Intro APR for 18 months on balance transfers from date of first transfer. After that the variable APR will be 14.74% - 24.74%, based on your creditworthiness. Balance transfers must be completed within 4 months of account opening.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater
  • Get free access to your FICO® Score online.
  • With Citi Entertainment®, get special access to purchase tickets to thousands of events, including concerts, sporting events, dining experiences and more.
  • Shop with confidence knowing that you have dependable protection benefits, including $0 Liability on Unauthorized Purchases and Citi® Identity Theft Solutions.
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 14.74% - 24.74%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for cash back rewards

Citi Image

Recommended Credit Score

Excellent (740 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Citi's secure website

Citi® Double Cash Card

Rewards Rate:
Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
Welcome Offer:
N/A
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
0% intro for 18 months on Balance Transfers
Regular APR:
13.99% - 23.99% (Variable)

Card Details

  • Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time.
  • Balance Transfer Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.99% - 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back.
  • If you transfer a balance, interest will be charged on your purchases unless you pay your entire balance (including balance transfers) by the due date each month.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 13.99% - 23.99% based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for rewards on small purchases

Citi Image

Recommended Credit Score

Excellent (740 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Citi's secure website

Citi Rewards+℠ Card

Rewards Rate:
Earn 2X ThankYou® Points at Supermarkets and Gas Stations for the first $6,000 per year and then 1X Points thereafter. Earn 1X ThankYou® Points on All Other Purchases.
Welcome Offer:
Earn 15,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases with your card within 3 months of account opening; redeemable for $150 in gift cards at thankyou.com
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
0% intro for 15 months on Purchases
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
0% intro for 15 months on Balance Transfers
Regular APR:
13.49% - 23.49% (Variable)

Card Details

  • The Citi Rewards+℠ Card - the only credit card that automatically rounds up to the nearest 10 points on every purchase - with no cap.
  • Earn 15,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases with your card within 3 months of account opening; redeemable for $150 in gift cards at thankyou.com
  • 0% Intro APR on balance transfers and purchases for 15 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.49% - 23.49%, based on your creditworthiness. Balance transfer fee — either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • Earn 2X ThankYou® Points at Supermarkets and Gas Stations for the first $6,000 per year and then 1X Points thereafter. Plus, earn 1X ThankYou® Points on All Other Purchases.
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 13.49% - 23.49%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for low interest

Pentagon FCU Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Pentagon FCU's secure website

PenFed Gold Visa® Card

Rewards Rate:
N/A
Welcome Offer:
$100 statement credit after spending $1,500 in purchase transactions within the first 90 days of account opening.
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
0% for 12 months
Regular APR:
7.49% - 17.99% Variable

Card Details

  • $100 statement credit after spending $1,500 in purchase transactions within the first 90 days of account opening.
  • 0% promotional rate for 12 months on balance transfers made between now and March 31, 2021. After that, the APR for the unpaid balance and any new balance transfers will be a non-variable rate of 17.99%. 3% balance transfer fee per transaction. Subject to credit approval. If you take advantage of this balance transfer, you will immediately be charged interest on all purchases made with your credit card unless you pay the entire account balance, including balance transfers, in full each month by the payment due date.
  • Rate and offers current as of December 1, 2020 and subject to change.
  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • No cash advance fees
  • Chip and Contactless 'Tap to Pay' enabled for added security, ease and convenience at the point of sale
  • Click and Pay eligible, via Secure Remote Commerce, so you can enjoy easy and secure online buying checkout
  • Purchase variable Rate As Low As 7.49% APR
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Some of the offers on this page may have expired.

The information about the Citi Simplicity® Card, Wells Fargo Platinum card, Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa®, U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card and SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.


Your guide to reducing debt with a balance transfer credit card

Debt can cause a major disruption in your personal finances, affecting not only your current situation but also future credit opportunities. The good news is that you have the ability to calm things down with the help of a balance transfer credit card.

A 2019 Bankrate.com survey found that less than half of U.S. adults who owe credit card debt have applied for a balance transfer credit card. Of the people who did apply, however, more than three-quarters were approved.

On this page, you can check out recommendations for the best balance transfer credit cards available from our partners. You’ll also find useful everyday tips on managing debt.

To go ahead and start comparing offers, skip down to Bankrate’s recap of the best balance transfer credit cards.

Compare 2020’s best balance transfer cards

Card Name Bankrate’s pick for Balance transfer Intro APR Period Regular APR
Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card Excellent credit 18 months 14.74% – 24.74% variable
Citi® Double Cash Card Cash back rewards 18 months 13.99% – 23.99% variable
Citi Rewards+℠ Card Rewards on small purchases 15 months 13.49% – 23.49% variable
PenFed Gold Visa® Card Low interest 12 months 17.99%
Citi Simplicity® Card No late fees 18 months 14.74% – 24.74% variable
Wells Fargo Platinum card Good credit 18 months (on qualifying transfers) 15.49% – 24.99% variable
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card Best for digital wallet users 15 months (on qualifying transfers) 13.99%-25.99% variable
U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card Best for longest 0% balance transfer offer 20 months 13.99% – 23.99% variable
SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card Best for no balance transfer fee 36 months (at 3.25% variable) 11.24% – 21.24% variable

A closer look at our top-rated balance transfer cards

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card

Why we rate it best for excellent credit

The Citi Diamond Preferred Card offers one of the longest 0% introductory periods on balance transfers you’ll find anywhere: 18 months, after which a variable APR of 14.74% – 24.74% applies. An excellent credit score is recommended to apply for the card, but using the balance transfer offer to pay down debt from another account could help you protect that status.

Pro-tip

With no rewards program, this card is ideally suited as a debt management tool to help you maintain your excellent credit score. You won’t earn any cash back or travel points, so convenience would be the only benefit of using it for everyday purchases.

The bottom line

This card is a great option to pay down a single debt or consolidate multiple debts interest-free, helping you keep your credit score in the excellent range. Aside from the generous balance transfer terms, however, the Citi Diamond Preferred is a fairly ordinary card.

Read our Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card review.

Citi® Double Cash Card

Why we rate it best for cash back rewards

The Citi Double Cash Card offers an inventive cash back rewards program on top of a generous 18-month 0% balance transfer offer (13.99% – 23.99% variable APR after the intro period ends). You’ll earn 1 percent cash back on every purchase and another 1 percent (2 percent total) when you pay for those purchases.

Pro-tip

Waiting for the second half of your cash back rewards (the additional 1 percent when you pay for your purchases) is a lesson in delayed gratification. Learn from it. Getting better acquainted with patience could help you correct the habits that made a balance transfer necessary in the first place.

The bottom line

The Citi Double Cash Card can make it much easier for you to pay off existing debt, but you might be tempted to keep it for the rewards program well after the balance transfer offer expires.

Read our Citi® Double Cash Card review.

Citi Rewards+℠ Card

Why we rate it best for rewards on small purchases

With this card, Citi rounds up your rewards to the nearest 10 points — meaning that a $22 fill-up at the gas pump would earn 50 ThankYou Points instead of 44. It’s an interesting wrinkle that can help you maximize this card’s value with even modest spending habits.

Pro-tip

Like other Citi cards, the Citi Rewards+ is recommended for people with excellent credit scores. The credit threshold makes this card best-suited for maintaining an already exceptional credit score with a balance transfer rather than using a transfer to build or repair credit.

The bottom line

This card’s 15-month 0% intro APR offers for balance transfers and purchases (13.49% – 23.49% variable after) are middle-of-the-road, and the recommended credit score puts it out of reach for many applicants. The Citi Rewards+ best fits a specific consumer profile: thrifty, with excellent credit and interested in keeping it that way.

Read our Citi Rewards+℠ Card review.

PenFed Gold Visa® Card

Why we rate it best for low interest

This card from the Pentagon Federal Credit Union and Visa offers 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 12 months, after which a fixed 17.99% APR applies. However, the standard APR for purchases begins at 7.49% for qualified applicants, well below the average credit card interest rate. You don’t have to be a service member to join the credit union, although many of the features and benefits are designed with the military in mind.

Pro-tip

At 12 months, the length of this card’s balance transfer offer falls on the lower end of the scale. To utilize the zero-interest window, you’ll need to make larger monthly payments on your transferred balance than you would with other cards. Also, be aware that the APR after the intro offer expires is 17.99% fixed.

The bottom line

Although many cards have longer introductory offers that could save you more money on a balance transfer, the low starting point for this card’s standard APR is notable in its own right.

Review for PenFed Gold Visa® Card coming soon!

Citi Simplicity® Card

Why we rate it best for no late fees

The Citi Simplicity offers one of the longest balance transfer intro periods currently available from our credit card partners. You’ll have 18 months of 0% interest to pay down balance transfers made within the first 4 months (14.74% – 24.74% variable APR after, based on your creditworthiness). You’ll also enjoy the benefits of no late fees, no annual fees and no penalty APR.

Pro-tip

The 18-month balance transfer offer is generous, but don’t get complacent during the long holiday from credit card APR. Keep paying your monthly statement — in full, on time, every time — and stay on schedule for chipping away at your transferred balance until it hits $0.

The bottom line

The Citi Simplicity has no rewards program or sign-up bonus. It’s essentially a balance transfer machine. What it lacks in flash, it makes up for with its potential to help you pay off transferred debt while avoiding lates fees, annual fees and penalty APR.

Read our Citi Simplicity® Card review.

Wells Fargo Platinum card

Why we rate it best for good credit

This card’s introductory balance transfer offer (18 months at 0% APR on qualifying transfers, then 16.49% – 24.49% variable based on creditworthiness) is among the longest available from our partners. What really makes it stand out is My Money Map. The Wells Fargo Platinum includes access to this package of spending and budget management tools, as well as your FICO Score, to help you maintain good credit.

Pro-tip

The introductory balance transfer fee is 3 percent (or $5, whichever is greater) for the first 120 days you own the card. The fee is up to 5 percent (minimum $5) after the intro period, so be sure to transfer your balance within that 120-day window to avoid a higher fee.

The bottom line

This card’s recommended credit score to apply is in the good to excellent range (670-850), but wise use of the balance transfer offer could help you keep your good credit intact. Although the card doesn’t have a rewards program, the balance transfer offer and My Money Map might have more appeal for credit-conscious consumers trying to manage debt.

Read our Wells Fargo Platinum card review.

Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card

Why we rate it best for digital wallet users

The Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa card offers two key opportunities. One, you can transfer a qualifying balance from another credit account and avoid APR for 15 months, with the regular 13.99%-25.99% variable rate applying afterward. Two, you can earn 1.8 percent cash back (a 20-percent bonus) on qualifying digital wallet transactions during your first year owning the card.

Pro-tip

To maximize that zero-interest window, we recommend applying your redeemed rewards to your transferred balance. This strategy could help you pay off the balance more quickly, especially since you’ll be earning a 20-percent bonus on qualifying digital wallet purchases the first year.

The bottom line

Frequent mobile wallet users looking for balance transfer options will find a lot to like about the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa. If you fit that consumer profile, this card is worth a look.

Read our Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card review.

U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card

Why we rate it best for longest 0% balance transfer offer

Zero-interest offers for balance transfers lasting 20 months or more aren’t as common as they used to be, but the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card is currently a rare exception. You can transfer a balance to this card and pay 0% APR for 20 billing cycles (13.99% – 23.99% variable APR after).

Pro-tip

The introductory 0% APR offer applies only to balance transfers made within 60 days of opening your account. If you want a temporary break from interest on a balance transfer, you’ll have just a couple of months’ time to qualify for the offer.

The bottom line

A zero-APR introductory offer that lasts 20 billing cycles appears to be the current gold standard for balance transfers, and in this case a Platinum card has it. With no rewards program, the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum could provide a straightforward way to manage debt using a balance transfer.

Read our U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card review.

SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card

Why we rate it best for no balance transfer fee

As is common with credit cards, the SunTrust card’s title of “best for no balance transfer fee” isn’t unconditional. The offer is good for the first 60 days after your account opening. Still, depending on the size of the balance you’re transferring, the savings from avoiding a balance transfer fee could be worth a couple of hundred dollars. The card also earns unlimited 1 percent cash back on qualifying purchases.

Pro-tip

The SunTrust Prime Rewards Card doesn’t have the same kind of balance transfer offer as the other cards profiled on this page. The 3 Year Introductory Offer at Prime Rate provides a longer window for paying off a balance, but the trade-off is that you would pay 3.25% variable APR rather than 0% APR during the introductory period.

The bottom line

As an example, taking a 3% balance transfer fee out of the equation could save you $90 on a $3,000 transfer. Fees aside, this particular card and offer raise some interesting questions about low APR vs. zero APR, which we try to answer here.

Review for the SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card coming soon!

What is a balance transfer credit card?

A balance transfer involves moving debt from one credit account to a different account, typically by using a balance transfer credit card that has a lower interest rate than the original account.

A balance transfer card can help you pay off debt by transferring your existing balance to a new credit card with a 0% intro APR period. During that time, you have the chance to pay off the the principal without having to pay interest.

Pros of balance transfer credit cards

The advantages of balance transfers with 0% introductory APR offers include:

  • By temporarily avoiding interest on the debt you’ve transferred, you could save money on interest payments.
  • Over the long term, reducing debt can improve your credit utilization ratio, meaning that you’re using less of the credit available to you.
  • The temporary break from interest on your transferred balance could translate to a smaller monthly payment than what you’re currently making.
  • Depending on the card and the issuer, you might have the option of transferring a balance from another credit card, a loan or from multiple credit accounts. Grouping multiple debts into one new credit account is a type of debt consolidation.

Cons of balance transfer credit cards

The drawbacks of a balance transfer credit card include:

  • The best offers with the longest 0% APR terms tend to go to people who have good or excellent credit.
  • As with any credit card, applying for a balance transfer card typically leads to a short-term dip in your credit score.
  • If you don’t pay off the transfer entirely during the introductory period, the remaining balance will be subject to the new card’s regular APR.

The key to getting the most value out of a balance transfer credit card is to keep making your monthly payments during the intro period until the balance reaches zero. The potential benefits are significant, just as long as you hold up your end of the bargain.

Is a balance transfer credit card right for you?

Used correctly, balance transfer cards with introductory zero-interest offers can help you:

  • Reduce debt while avoiding high interest. Debt can be expensive, especially credit card debt. As of November 18, Bankrate estimates the current average interest rate on credit cards at 16.02 percent. Most balance transfer credit cards come with 0% APR intro periods, which can help you save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on interest.
  • Simplify your finances. If you transfer multiple balances to one credit card, you’ll have just one monthly payment to keep track of. No more multiple accounts, passwords and payment due dates.
  • Improve your overall financial health. Credit utilization accounts for 30 percent of your credit score. The more credit you’ve used in relation to your available credit, the lower your score might be.

However, transferring balances may or may not be the right move depending on your circumstances. Consider the following situations:

My balance situation is … Should I consider a balance transfer?
$10,000 or less on one credit card Yes
$10,000 or less total on multiple credit cards Yes
$10,000 or less in different kinds of debt Yes
More than $10,000 in card or loan debt Maybe not

 

My credit score is … Should I consider a balance transfer?
Good or excellent Yes
Fair, poor or bad Maybe not

Under $10K with good or excellent credit — Yes

A balance transfer is ideal when it involves less than $10,000 in debt, whether on a single credit card, multiple cards or different types of credit accounts.

  • A balance on one credit card: A credit card-to-credit card balance transfer is probably the most common use.
  • Balances on multiple cards: Some balance transfer cards allow you to transfer balances from more than one credit card account. Still, don’t forget that you’ll probably have to pay a fee for each transfer, so multiple transfers will raise your total cost accordingly.
  • Different kinds of card/loan debt: Depending on the balance transfer card, you may be able to transfer balances from different types of credit accounts, including cards, car loans and student loans. Keep in mind that multiple transfers can mean multiple transfer fees.

With a good or excellent FICO Score (between 670 and 850), qualifying for a top-rated balance transfer credit card is generally easier.

Over $10K with fair, poor or bad credit — Maybe not

If your combined balance is higher than $10,000, you might want to consider other options. You typically can’t transfer a balance higher than your credit limit, and $10,000 is at the high end.

In fact, the average credit limit for a new credit line for an account holder with super-prime credit is $10,069, according to the American Bankers Association’s Credit Card Market Monitor. The averages for prime and subprime credit are $5,895 and $2,731, respectively. Also, the larger the balance, the harder it will be to pay it all off within an intro offer period.

Is it a good idea to do a balance transfer with a credit card?

It can be, if you have the credit score to qualify for a balance transfer card with a 0% APR intro offer. For any kind of balance transfer to succeed, you’ll also need the self-discipline to pay off the transfer during the temporary window of zero interest.
The potential benefits of using a credit card for a balance transfer include:

  • Interest savings. A zero-interest introductory offer provides you with a temporary reprieve from interest charges.
  • Convenience. A lot of offers are available for online applications, and you might also be able to complete the transfer online with no physical forms or paperwork.
  • Long-term value. A card that offers rewards and benefits in addition to a balance transfer offer could be worth using as any everyday card after you’ve paid off the transferred balance.

If you think a balance transfer isn’t quite right for your financial situation, consider getting a personal loan.

With a FICO score of 660 or below, you may have trouble qualifying for one of the better balance transfer credit cards. Fortunately, a number of lenders offer loans for people with low credit scores, so a loan could be an alternative solution.

The question of balance transfer vs. personal loan involves several factors, including interest rates, fees and potential effects on your credit score. Make sure you do your homework before deciding.

How to do a balance transfer

You don’t have to be an expert in personal finance to understand the balance transfer process. It’s essentially a matter of moving debt from one credit account to another.
The main things to know are:

  1. Once you’ve applied for and received a balance transfer card, you’ll have a certain period of time (spelled out in the card’s terms and conditions) when you can make transfers that qualify for the zero-interest offer.
  2. Most issuers will have a process online or in their mobile app that allows you to make balance transfer requests. Depending on the issuer, you might be able to make the request by phone.
  3. You’ll need to give the issuer the account numbers of the card or loan accounts you want to transfer balances from.
  4. If you request your balance transfer online, your card issuer’s website will take you through a step-by-step process where you’ll select options and enter information on a series of screens.
  5. Look for confirmation. The issuer of your balance transfer card will notify you when the transfer is approved, but always check your other account(s) to make sure the old balance has been zeroed out. Pending charges made before you initiated the transfer will still show up.

If you have questions at any point in the process, contact a customer service representative for help. It’s your money, after all, so you’ll want to get everything right.

How much money could you save with a balance transfer?

If you’re paying down a large balance, a 0% intro offer could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Experian reports that the average credit card balance reached $6,194 in 2019. Here’s how much you could save by transferring $6,194 in debt to one of our top balance transfer credit cards, based on the following conditions:

  • That you would pay the balance transfer fee upfront and pay off a $6,194 balance within the intro offer period.
  • Potential savings with each card are calculated by comparing how much interest you would pay on your current card at 20 percent APR, minus the balance transfer fee.
Balance transfer intro offer period Regular APR Balance transfer fee Potential savings minus transfer fee
Citi Simplicity® Card 18 months 14.74% – 24.74% variable $185.82 (3%) $840
Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card 18 months 14.74% – 24.74% variable $185.82 (3%) $840
Citi® Double Cash Card 18 months 13.99% – 23.99% variable $185.82 (3%) $840
Wells Fargo Platinum card 18 months on qualifying transfers 15.49% – 24.99% variable $185.82 (3%)* $840
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card 15 months (on qualifying transfers) 13.99%-25.99% $185.82 (3%)* $671
Citi Rewards+℠ Card 15 months 13.49% – 23.49% variable $185.82 (3%) $671
PenFed Gold Visa® Card 12 months 17.99% $185.82 (3%) $505

*The introductory balance transfer fee for the Wells Fargo Platinum and Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa is 3% for 120 days after account opening. The fee for each qualifying balance transfer after 120 days is up to 5%.

Can you avoid a balance transfer fee?

In most cases, you’ll have to pay a fee that typically comes to 3 percent or 5 percent of the balance being transferred. The fee compensates the credit card issuer for taking on the risk of issuing what amounts to a temporary interest-free loan.

However, you might have options. One is to shop around for a credit card that doesn’t charge a balance transfer fee. Another possibility is negotiating the balance transfer fee with the credit card issuer.

CardSmart: Which offer is better, longer low APR or shorter zero APR?

Expert advice on choosing and using credit cards from BankrateAs you shop around for balance transfer credit cards, you might find that not all cards provide an introductory offer of 12-20 months at zero interest. Some cards have intro periods of low (but not zero) interest that last considerably longer.

One example is the SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card and its 3 Year Introductory Offer at Prime Rate. It provides a 36-month window on transfers made in the first 60 days, which is 80 percent longer than a zero-interest offer lasting 20 months. However, the trade-off is that you would pay 3.25% variable APR during the introductory period (and 11.24% – 21.24% variable after) rather than 0% APR.

It comes down to one question: Would you rather pay zero interest for nearly two years or low interest for a full three years?

To help you find the answer, we’ve used Bankrate’s Credit Card Payoff Calculator to simulate payoff plans with the SunTrust card and one of our top-rated zero APR balance transfer cards, the Citi Diamond Preferred Card. Here’s what paying off a $5,000 balance transfer would look like with each card:

SunTrust Prime Rewards Credit Card Citi Diamond Preferred Card
Principal $5,000 $5,000
Months to pay 36 18
Monthly payment $145 $286
Interest $254 $0
Balance transfer fee $0* $150 (3%)
Total cost $5,254 $5,150

*Intro offer on balances transferred during the first 60 days from account opening. Fee for balances transferred after the first 60 days is $10 or 3% of the amount of the transfer, whichever is greater.

It’s up to you to decide which is better, based on your financial situation: (a) pay zero interest for a long time or (b) pay a little interest for an even longer time. Here’s a closer look at each plan and why it might (or might not) be the right one for you:

SunTrust Prime Rewards plan

Advantages: Lower monthly payment, no-fee intro offer

Disadvantages: Higher total cost, longer commitment

Why it might work for you: The 36-month plan, with its lower monthly payments, would be well-suited for someone about to enter an extended period of belt-tightening. One example would be a two-income family that has suddenly become a single-income family because one of the partners has lost his or her job. If you’re facing reduced income for several months or even longer, the cost of interest might be worth it just to have more time for paying off your balance transfer.

Citi Diamond Preferred plan

Advantages: Lower total cost, shorter commitment

Disadvantages: Higher monthly payment, no intro offer on fee

Why it might work for you: The 18-month plan would be a better fit for someone whose only immediate concern is that single balance they want to transfer. If no other external factors are at work, such as job loss or other high-interest debts, the higher monthly payments should be easier to absorb over a shorter period of time.

Questions and answers about balance transfers


If you’re not sure how balance transfer credit cards work, don’t worry. We have answers for several frequently asked questions to help you get better informed about the process.

How long do balance transfers take?

As long as you have your account numbers and other information ready beforehand, the process of requesting a balance transfer shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.

Equally important: How long before your balance is transferred to your new card so that you can start paying off the debt? You can find the answer in the balance transfer card’s terms and conditions.

Timelines for processing balance transfers vary from issuer to issuer. It could take 7 to 10 days, but in some cases it could take a couple of weeks — or even as long as a month.

Depending on the issuer, the online “dashboard” for your balance transfer card’s account might include a tracking feature that lets you follow the transfer’s progress. In any case, keep an eye on your dashboard to see when the transferred debt appears on your new card.

Also, make sure you’re still making payments on the existing balance until you receive official confirmation that the balance transfer has gone through.

Is there a limit to how much you can transfer?

The limit for balance transfer cards depends on the card, the issuer and specific aspects of your financial situation. Typically, issuers will let you transfer a balance (plus fees) that is no higher than your credit limit. Two of the biggest factors that determine your credit limit are your credit score and annual income.

If you want to make a balance transfer that exceeds your credit limit, you can call the issuer to ask if they’ll increase it. While it’s not guaranteed that the issuer will approve the increase, it’s highly possible. In fact, research by CreditCards.com found that cardholders had an 85% shot at getting a credit limit increase just by asking.

Can you transfer different kinds of debt besides credit card debt?

Yes, depending on the company that issues your balance transfer card.

Although balance transfers are primarily used for credit card debt, each issuer has its own rules for what types of debt you can transfer. For example, Chase customers can transfer credit card balances only, but Bank of America and Citi both allow credit card balances, auto loans, personal loans, home equity and student loans to be transferred.

Also, some issuers let you transfer multiple debts to one balance transfer card, a form of debt consolidation.

Another important point to remember is that most issuers will not let you transfer a balance from an existing account with that same issuer.

Can you get a balance transfer card with bad credit?

You might be able to get a balance transfer card if you have bad credit, but getting one with a zero-APR introductory offer is another story.

The most useful balance transfer cards are the ones that include an introductory offer providing a temporary window to pay off the balance interest-free before the standard APR would apply. Unfortunately, a bad credit score — which indicates more risk for the issuer — will likely make it difficult to qualify for this kind of offer.

The good news is that you might be able to get a balance transfer offer with a lower interest rate than what you’re currently paying, if not zero interest. Even a 10-percent introductory interest rate would still be lower than the current average rate, which hovers around 16 percent.

Doing a balance transfer with bad credit can be tricky, and you have other options besides credit cards. You might find that a personal loan is the better course of action, with the possibility of a lower interest rate. Still, your eligibility for loans or balance transfer cards will depend heavily on your credit score, the amount of debt you’re looking to pay off and other factors.

Your first step might be improving your credit before you look for other solutions.

Should you pay off a loan with a balance transfer credit card?

It depends on how much you owe on the loan. Balance transfer credit cards are best suited for managing smaller amounts of debt, ideally less than $10,000. With bigger debts — a $15,000 car loan, for example — you’d find it considerably more difficult to pay off the entire balance before the 0% intro APR offer expired and the regular APR took effect.

Also, you pay more in fees for bigger balances. Using the hypothetical $15,000 car loan as an example, a typical 3% balance transfer fee would cost you $450.

It might be possible to transfer part of a large balance to a balance transfer credit card and get some relief from interest charges. The tradeoff would be the inconvenience of now having two credit accounts to keep track of instead of the one account you started out with.

No two situations are alike, though. Do some thorough research, and maybe even talk to a financial adviser, before you transfer a large loan balance. Even if the card has an attractive balance transfer offer, it might not provide the best option for larger amounts of debt.

How long is the average balance transfer offer?

The Credit CARD Act of 2009 requires that introductory offers must be at least 6 months long, but offer periods can run as long as 21 months. The average is somewhere in the middle, with common offer periods falling at 12, 15 or 18 months.

Unless you’re transferring a very small balance (in which case your balance transfer fee might outweigh your potential interest savings), you probably want to have at least 12 months to pay off that balance. Which specific offer length is best for you really depends on your debt and your monthly budget.

Should you close your old account after transferring a balance?

You might be tempted to cut up your high-balance card once you transfer, but that move could actually damage your credit score.

One of the factors in determining your score is the average length of open accounts. If you close multiple accounts that you’ve had open for years, you could seriously reduce that average and hurt your score. Closing accounts also raises your credit utilization ratio (by taking away multiple lines of credit that factor into your overall average ratio), which can also lower your score.

If you keep those accounts open and use them for small purchases once a year (paying off those balances immediately), you can actually help strengthen your credit score over time.

The exception is if you have cards with annual fees. If you’re consolidating debt from multiple rewards credit cards with high annual fees, it might not be worth it to keep those in your wallet long-term if you don’t plan on consistently using them.

However, keep in mind that if you close those accounts, the issuer might not let you reapply for the card for a specific time frame.

How do balance transfers affect your credit score?

You might experience a temporary dip in your credit score after you complete a balance transfer. Applying for a new credit card involves a hard inquiry into your account and will shorten your average account age, and transferring multiple balances to one card will hurt your credit utilization ratio for that new card. These are all factors that make up your credit score.

However, consolidating your debt with a balance transfer credit card and successfully paying off your balance within the intro offer period can significantly reduce your overall credit utilization ratio and prove to lenders that you can be trusted to pay back lines of credit issued to you — both of which can raise your credit score dramatically over time.

What’s the longest 0% APR balance transfer offer?

Nowadays, 20 months and 18 months are the gold and silver standards for 0% intro APR offers with balance transfer credit cards. The average is probably closer to the 15-month range.

Here’s a look at some exceptional 0% intro APR offers on balance transfers available from our credit card partners:

Balance transfer credit card 0% intro APR offer Transfer a balance by December 31, 2020, and avoid regular APR until:
U.S. Bank Platinum Visa Card 20 billing cycles (13.99% – 23.99% variable after)* August 31, 2022
Citi Simplicity Card 18 months (14.74% – 24.74% variable after) July 1, 2022
Citi Diamond Preferred Card 18 months (14.74% – 24.74% variable after) July 1, 2022
Citi Double Cash Card 18 months (13.99% – 23.99% variable after) July 1, 2022
Wells Fargo Platinum card 18 months on qualifying transfers (16.49% – 24.49% variable after) July 1, 2022
Citi Rewards+ Card 15 months (13.49% – 23.49% variable after) March 31, 2022
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa 15 months on qualifying transfers (14.49%-24.99% variable after) March 31, 2022
PenFed Gold Visa Card 12 months (17.99% after)** December 31, 2021

*Terms and Restrictions Apply
**On transfers completed by March 31, 2021

How we chose our best balance transfer cards

Bankrate writers and editors have evaluated dozens of options to determine which cards are most likely to help you achieve your financial goals with a balance transfer. In this category, our 5-star scoring system pays particular attention to the essential features of a balance transfer credit card, including:

0% introductory APR offer

Balance transfer cards should ideally have a long 0% APR introductory offer — between 12 and 18 months, if not longer. You’ll have more time to pay off the transferred balance before the regular APR takes effect.

Balance transfer fee

The best balance transfer credit cards will charge a low fee on transferred balances, or even no fee at all. If you have an excellent credit score, consider asking to have the fee lowered or waived.

Regular variable APR

Regular variable APR is the interest rate that you will be charged after the introductory 0% APR period. Ideally, the low end of the variable APR range should be at least a few points below 16% with a high end no more than 30%.

Rewards

Credit card rewards may not be the main motivation behind getting a balance transfer card, but cash back or rewards points can add to the card’s long-term value.

More information on balance transfer credit cards

Want to know more about transferring balances to a credit card? Here’s a list of our top resources from Bankrate’s personal finance experts:

Balance transfer guides by credit card issuer

If you want to do a balance transfer with a specific bank or card issuer, Bankrate has detailed guides from the following financial companies:


Senior Editor Barry Bridges has been writing about credit cards, loans, mortgages and other personal finance products for Bankrate since 2018. His work has also appeared on websites including Nasdaq.com, Zillow.com and The Simple Dollar. He was previously an award-winning newspaper journalist in his native North Carolina. Send your questions about credit cards (and fantasy baseball) to bbridges@bankrate.com.

Have more questions for our credit cards editors? Feel free to send us an email, find us on Facebook, or Tweet us @Bankrate.

* See the online application for details about terms and conditions for these offers. Every reasonable effort has been made to maintain accurate information. However all credit card information is presented without warranty. After you click on the offer you desire you will be directed to the credit card issuer's web site where you can review the terms and conditions for your selected offer.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, is accurate as of the publish date. All products or services are presented without warranty. Check the bank’s website for the most current information.